The first thing that struck me upon arriving in Richmond for our visit to the State Capitol was how beautiful the building itself is, and how its gleaming white stands out from the rest of the city. On one hand, the symbolism is hopeful. But on the other hand, the building looked like a mansion, and it made me think a lot about the inequality in Richmond that I have witnessed first-hand. It’s much like the statutes of civil war heroes that line Monument Avenue, at which you will often find homeless people sleeping. It’s quite the juxtaposition.
With that in mind, as I entered the building I was struck by how many people were milling about. Since it looks like a palace outside, I was imagining a lot of quiet and beautiful halls. But there were people walking, waiting, and sitting everywhere, and from what seemed all walks of life. If I’m truly honest with myself I have never thought that writing, calling or visiting my representative was ever worth my time. In my mind, the legislative process has always been some good ole’ boys club that I am not a part of. Also, because I was instructed to write letters to my senator as a child in elementary school, or at girl scout meetings; contacting my representatives seemed even less worth of my time because writing letters as a child made the act seem like more political symbolism rather than something that truly affects change.
Visiting the General Assembly made me realize that I am no longer a teenager with political beliefs no one cares about. I am a law student with the same qualifications, or opportunity to get those qualifications, as my representatives. Being in law school has made me feel closer and more akin to politicians in general, which is a new and somewhat uncomfortable feeling.
Meeting Eileen Filler-Corn, who represents the 41st District in Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates, was very reinforcing of this realization, as she is a woman with a law degree just like me, who is taking part in the legislative process. I now have a duty to understand the legislative process, and be an engaged and vocal constituent.
One of the biggest takeaways for me was how little time the representatives have to spend reading the bills they vote on. As representative Filler-Corn said, it’s impossible to read everything. Of course some representatives are more engaged than others, but if their votes are not based on reading the bills it seems that their votes are based on understanding of the law, and how it interacts with economies and relationships that they have formed with people who they trust. A lot of their decisions might be based on an impression of a constituent who is a particularly apt communicator or has a moving story. Those soft factors really seem like they could make a difference in persuading a lawmaker.
By Rebecca Ribley, VCPC Practicum I student